Sunday, November 7, 2010

Interpreted vs. Compiled Code

A source code needs to be translated from a set of primitives into a language understood by the machine (CPU). Compiled program is translated into a machine specific instructions (CPU specific) whereas interpreted program is educed to machine instructions at runtime. This has number of associated weaknesses but also allows certain functionality which cannot be implemented in a compiled program.
Interpreted programs are usually associated with slower runtime and that is because the code needs to be translated at runtime. In addition, it is much more difficult to enforce Intellectual Property rights since the code needs to be distributed. Both were partially solved by programming languages such as Java and C# by translating the code into bytecode which is executed in turn by a framework such as Java Virtual Machine. As noted by Peter Haggar (2001) “bytecode is an important part of the size and execution speed of your code”.
On the other hand, interpreted languages allow software developers to do thing that can not be done in a compiled language. For example, since the source code is usually stored in a text file, it could be manipulated by the program during the runtime - it allows the program to modify or mutate itself. In addition, interpreted languages are usually associated with easier software development process since the it is not required to recompile the code every time it changes. This feature is particular useful for operating system (OS) administrators who often tweak a script, executed by the OS itself, to suit a specific need without recompilation associated with the compiled programs. Another benefit of interpreted language is the interoperability of the developed program or script since the machine level translation happens at the execution of the program. This is demonstrated by the fact that a program written in C or C++ (usually) requires recompilation for every execution platform while code written in Java does not.
In reality, there is no clear distinction between compiled and interpreted software development language. According to Wikipedia (n.d.) “Many languages have been implemented using both compilers and interpreters, including Lisp, Pascal, C, BASIC, and Python”, therefore the discussion should be more focused on a specific implementation of the software development language.


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